Seized guns were returned to killer

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A MAN who flew into a rage and shot his partner, two other women then himself had his guns taken from him by police three years ago amid concerns for his mental health.

But Minicab-driver Michael Atherton, 42, successfully applied to have his weapons returned despite his family telling police he had threatened to shoot himself in 2008.

Late on New Year’s Day police were called to his semi-detached house in Greenside Avenue, Horden, and found he had killed his 47-year-old partner, Susan McGoldrick, her sister, Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece, Tanya Turnbull, 24, before taking his own life.

As the shooting began, a teenager, understood to be Mrs McGoldrick’s 19-year-old daughter, Laura, fled through an upstairs window and raised the alarm.

Durham Police said Mr Atherton had been out drinking, while the women he killed were out in another group of friends.

A row started when they met at home and “in a matter of moments” he blasted the women downstairs, then turned his licensed-shotgun on himself between the kitchen and living room.

Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, of Durham Police, said: “My officers are continuing to work closely with the victims’ families to piece together the series of events that led to this tragic incident and to establish a motive.”

Easington Labour MP Grahame Morris said: “The issue is that in 2008 police responded to a call that there was a domestic argument and Mr Atherton had threatened to self-harm - to shoot himself.

“At the time the police took his firearms from him and he applied to have them returned. Police made an assessment and they were returned to him.”

Police confirmed that the weapons were taken from Mr Atherton’s house as a precaution, but as he insisted there had been no threat to harm himself, the weapons were returned.

That decision followed national procedure, a force spokesman said.

Mr Morris called for a review of firearms legislation in the light of the tragedy which has shocked the former mining village by the North Sea. But Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman said the Government had no plans to revisit UK gun laws which were “amongst the toughest in the world”.